Did US, UK Just Save the Internet?

Did US, UK Just Save the Internet?Working day in and day out in the wonderful world of content marketing and helping clients build their business is a time-consuming job. Countless agencies and small businesses spend lots of time to ensure their work on the web is effective and ultimately generates conversions. It’s easy to get caught up in this interesting and ever-changing world and not see the bigger picture of what’s going on with the internet these days. I do it at times, and I’m sure everyone else does. But just yesterday, the US and a few others refused to back a UN treaty that could change the way the internet works.

What is the International Telecommunication Union?

The UN spent the last 12 or so days debating a new treaty called the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The ITU is essentially an attempt to re-negotiate a 24-year-old communications treaty. According to the BBC, the new document “would help nations coordinate efforts against spam and widen access to the web.” While changes might need to be made to a 24-year-old agreement (much has changed in 24 years!), the US,UK and others were a bit worried about this new ITU treaty.

Given the recent role of a free internet in the downfall of corrupt regimes throughout the Arab world and elsewhere (Kyrgyzstan’s pre-Arab spring revolution in 2010 also heavily relied on the internet and telecommunications), the countries in opposition were concerned about censorship and control. The BBC again informs that “much of the discussions … [focused] on whether or not countries should have equal rights to the development of the internet’s technical foundations.”

Responses to the ITU

The measure included language that the US, UK and others felt threatened the natural state of the internet. Fears of censorship and tightened government control were the talk of the tech world and even within the US government. Businessweek quotes the US delegation on the treaty, “We candidly cannot support an ITU treaty that is inconsistent with the multi-stakeholder model.”

Google aggressively opposed the measure, which would deny some of the biggest companies a voice in helping to build the regulations of the internet. They even stated, according to Businessweek, “What is clear from the ITU meeting in Dubai that many governments want to increase regulation and censorship of the Internet.”

One quote I find most striking from all of the talk about the ITU came straight from Terry Kramer, US ambassador to the World Conference on International Telecommunications. Mashable quotes Terry stating, “Internet policy should not be determined by member states but by citizens, communities, and broader society, and such consultation from the private sector and civil society is paramount.” This is the belief that has expanded the internet from a small government project into an economic and communications engine that has been continually changing how we do business, how we relate to one another, and how we communicate with the rest of the world.

Refusal and the Future

The US and UK have refused to sign the treaty, and it has since become a non-binding treaty in the UN. About 10 other countries insist on discussing it with their national governments before signing anything, an indication that they likely will not sign in the end.

In the future, we’re going to see this matter of the ITU come up on more than one occasion. Another summit is already scheduled for 2014. If we want to continue to take advantage of an internet controlled by people, and not nations, we should continue to pay attention to these issues and stay informed as best we can. The internet has helped fuel job growth and new businesses, and their brands, for years. Putting any sort of constricting or potentially constricting regulation on it will only slow down progress and, at worst, censor people with legitimate political and social grievances.

So here’s to the US and others for refusing to sign a document that isn’t well-designed or well-written. Today is a good day for the internet. What do you think?

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Patrick currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is studying for a Master's Degree in Intercultural Relations. Upon graduation from Penn State in 2008, he spent two years overseas in Kyrgyzstan with the U.S. Peace Corps. While writing is currently his chosen way to put food on the table, he loves fitness and exercise, which he believes makes up for his avid computer gaming habit.

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